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Campaigns through the ages – a look at the regulatory framework for political campaigns in Nigeria

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Since independence, political campaigns have been a significant aspect of the democratic electoral process in Nigeria. The aim of a political campaign is to promote a political party, and its candidate(s) and persuade voters to vote for them. Through campaigns, candidates and political parties prepare and present their ideas and positions on issues and their propositions on how they intend to govern if elected.

Campaigns for the 2023 elections started in earnest on September 28, 2022, pursuant to section 94 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 which provides that the period for political campaigning shall commence 150 days before the election date. Candidates vying for the office of the president officially began advertising in print media, stating their mandates and plans through various platforms. There have also been rallies and marches for presidential candidates.

A credible election remains the basis for conferring legitimacy on any government in a democratic dispensation. Unfortunately, from its first post-independence general elections in 1965, Nigeria has had a rich history of elections blemished with one blot or another. In fact, the 2019 elections that returned President Buhari to power for a second term were described by the Situation Room, an umbrella organisation of Nigerian civil society groups, as one that marked “a step back from the 2015 general election and actions should be taken to identify what has gone wrong and what can be corrected”.

As the curtain falls on President Buhari’s final term, and a sunlit dawn beckons, we examine Nigeria’s campaign history, the electoral laws that governed them, and what should be the ideal expectations of Nigerians in the current campaign.

Regulatory frameworks for election campaigns in Nigeria
The first political party of note was the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) formed in 1923 by Herbert Macaulay to take advantage of the Clifford Constitution of 1923 and politically compete for legislative seats in the Lagos Legislative Council. But this party was mainly a nationalist party with a nationalist objective of securing Nigeria’s independence.

The political parties formed in Nigeria in 1959 shortly before Nigeria gained independence were parties with a more regional outlook than a national one. The parties were the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) led by Nnamdi Azikiwe was more of an eastern Nigeria party; the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) headed by Tafawa Balewa majorly populated by the Hausa-Fulani from the north, and Action Group (AG) for the Western region led by Obafemi Awolowo.

Thus, in 1960, Nigeria, freshly liberated from British rule, needed its own independent government to steer its affairs.
Although elections for regional representatives for the Eastern, Northern and Western regions had been in existence since 1946, election campaigns did not commence until after independence. Pre-independence elections were organized into legislative and municipal councils and although there were political rallies and speeches, news and articles in the papers, there were no deliberate campaign strategies employed to sell the political candidates, their programs or policies.

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The first republic (1960-1963)
Ahead of Nigeria’s independence in 1960, parliamentary elections were held. The NPC-led coalition consisting of other smaller parties like the Igala Union, Niger Delta Congress, etc., won a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives, earning Tafawa Balewa, the leader of the party, the prime minister and the head of government.
As no single party in the 1959 elections won a majority of the seats in the legislature, the NPC and NCNC ahead of the 1963 elections formed an alliance. On winning, both parties combined to form the national government in Nigeria’s first republic, retaining Tafawa Balewa as prime minister and Nnamdi Azikiwe as Head of State.

Ahead of the elections in 1963, the Electoral Act 1962 came into force. The Act however did not provide expressly for how campaigns are to be conducted. However, parties focused on ethnic allegiance and support during the polls.

The 1998-99 Nigeria Elections took campaigns to another level as campaigns along ethnic or regional lines were seen as untenable in the new transition to democratic representation

It was Nigeria’s first republic which began in 1963 that saw a lot of growth in political campaigns. The AG employed helicopters for skywriting, flying of pamphlets and promotional materials to the electorate. This made a mark in the campaign trajectory in the country as a seemingly new way to reach electorates.
The republic was overthrown in 1966.

13 years of military rule and a drop of democracy [1966 – 1983]
Military rule commenced in 1966 with a coup led by Aguiyi Ironsi. On taking office, he instituted Decree 34 and placed a ban on political parties. He was followed by successive military governments led by Yakubu Gowon, Muritala Mohammed and Olusegun Obasanjo, and the ban remained in force until 1979 when it was lifted by Olusegun Obasanjo, leading the country to its first multiparty polls.

The 1979 presidential elections were held on August 11, 1979, with five political parties competing. These parties include the Nigerian Party of Nigeria (NPN), Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), and Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP).

As might be expected in this second attempt at democracy, there was some continuity between the old parties of the first republic (1963) and the new parties in the second republic. The NPN, for instance, was an offshoot of the Nothern Peoples Congress (NPC), although the NPN differed from the NPC in that it obtained significant support in the non-Igbo states in southeastern Nigeria. The UPN inherited the mantle of the Action Group with Obafemi Awolowo as its leader, and it had its support almost entirely in the Yoruba states. The Nigerian People’s Party (NPP), a spin-off of the NCNC predominantly had the support of the Igbos and was headed by Nnamdi Azikiwe.
A failed alliance with the non-Hausa and Fulani birthed the Great Nigerian People’s Party with strong support in parts of the North with Waziri Ibrahim as leader and the People’s Redemption Party, a successor to the Northern Elements Progressive Union had Aminu Kano as its head.

Just as the NPC dominated the first republic, the NPN dominated the second republic with Shehu Shagari elected as Executive President. He was re-elected in 1983, and the ruling NPN enlisted a UK-based advert agency, Saatchi and Saatchi to organize its campaign and was re-elected.

At this time, the Constitution provided for the framework that governed elections, and again no specific provisions governed the campaigns.

Another military coup in 1983 put an end to Nigeria’s new democratic push and Muhammad Buhari took over power. Muhammad Buhari’s two years of military rule were toppled by another military government headed by Ibrahim Babangida.

June 12, 1993
In the 1993 elections, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the National Republican Convention (NRC) were the two political parties contesting the presidential elections. The military government headed by Ibrahim Babangida sought to hand over power to a democratically-elected government.

Decree 13, the Basic Constitution and Provisions Decree, gave the National Electoral Commission (NEC) led by Humphrey Nwosu “sweeping powers to disqualify a candidate” and to “postpone the election” and was charged with the responsibility of running the polls. Again, no express laws on the conduct of campaigns.

However, SDP with its flagbearer, Moshoood Abiola, a media mogul himself, employed extensive advertising. Although the 1993 elections were annulled, the SDP was clearly in the lead in the election, and from an eyewitness account, the charisma of the SDP flagbearer, “his philanthropy, achievements, his campaign jingles and rallies all greatly affected his victory at the polls”.

Nigeria returned to civilian rule in May 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo, who contested under the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), won over 62 percent of the votes defeating his opponent, Oluyemi Falae of the Alliance for Democracy/All Peoples’ Party.

The Fourth and Current Republic (1999 – date) and the Electoral Act 2010
Campaigns at the beginning of Nigeria’s fourth republic were greatly influenced by the regulations stipulated by the electoral body on how the campaigns and subsequent elections should effectively be carried out. To prevent the formation of regional or ethnic-based political parties, an issue that plagued Nigeria since its independence, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) established strict registration conditions.

According to a 1999 report by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the Carter Center on “Observing The 1998-99 Nigeria Elections”, political parties were required to set up and maintain offices in 24 out of the 36 states in Nigeria and demonstrate a regional mix in the leadership of each party. This took campaigns to another level as campaigns along ethnic or regional lines were seen as untenable in the new transition to democratic representation. More so, parties were initially required to obtain at least ten percent of the vote in 24 states during local government elections, although, this later changed to five percent.

According to the Carter Center report, “these regulations set the stage for intense competition between parties to attract and retain prominent politicians, potential candidates, and financial support, especially in parts of the country where support for the party was weak. The lack of regulations for campaign finance made parties compete vigorously for wealthy, well-connected and potentially dubious individuals to fund campaigns out of their own pocket.” Thus, election campaigns in Nigeria from this time saw many shows of wealth, from advertisements in print and television to voter sensitization through gifts and cash handouts.

Consequently, Electoral Act 2010 had as one of its innovations the limitations on election expenses by candidates. Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010 provided that the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at presidential and governorship elections shall be one billion Naira and two hundred million Naira respectively.

The Electoral Act 2022 gives a framework for how campaigns. The Act increased the campaign period (from 60 days as prescribed in the Electoral Act 2010) to 150 days from the polling day which is to end 24 hours prior to that day.
Section 95 of the Electoral Act 2022 allows a candidate and his party to “campaign for elections in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Independent National Electoral Commission”. Parties may utilize state apparatus including the media, but must not be employed to the advantage and disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election and media time must be allocated equally. More so, equal coverage and visibility shall be allotted to political parties.

Campaigns shall not include threats with the use of force or violence to any person whether directly or indirectly in order to compel such person to vote or not vote for a political party. The Act also provides in section 93 (2) that such use of threat is a criminal offence and is liable on conviction in the case of a candidate to a maximum fine of one million Naira or imprisonment for 12 months and in the case of a political party to a fine of two million Naira.

Section 97 prohibits political parties and candidates from campaigning based on religious, tribal or sectional reasons for the purpose of promoting or opposing a political party or the election of a particular candidate. This offence is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of one million Naira or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both in the case of an individual and ten million Naira in the case of a political party.
It also increased the maximum expenditure for a presidential candidate to five billion Naira and that of the governorship to one billion Naira.

The 2023 Elections and beyond…
The 2023 elections will be governed by the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022. Nigeria’s democratic process has greatly advanced and regulatory influence in campaigns and the whole electoral process from independence to post-independence have also been greatly felt. The Electoral Act 2022 has created some innovative provisions and addressed some of the thorny challenges to credible elections in Nigeria.

One ill in campaigns the regulatory evolution seems determined to tackle is that of a spending limit, given the unsavoury outcomes of wealth wielded in self-centred hands. Already, during the primaries, there were allegations of large sums of money being given to delegates to secure their vote. It is hoped that such actions will become a thing of the past, and is met with swift legal action, where found in the present or future.